Black Lives Matter Syllabus Project, Pedagogy

The Anthropoliteia #BlackLivesMatter Syllabus, Week 26: Sameena Mulla on Missing Black Girls and Women

The editors of Anthropoliteia are happy to continue an ongoing series The Anthropoliteia #BlackLivesMatterSyllabus Project, which will mobilize anthropological work as a pedagogical exercise addressing the confluence of race, policing and justice. You can see a growing bibliography of resources via our Mendeley feed.  In this post, Sameena Mulla notes contributions to the recent discussions about missing black girls (with thanks to Leslie Wingard).

SayHerNameIf you take anything away from this post, it should be to read Eve Dunbar’s article, “On Gwendolyn Brooks and Disappearing Black Girls.” Dunbar writes:

In Washington, DC, the city currently home to America’s least popular president ever, the mainstream media “broke” the story that a rash of black girls had gone missing. Social networking platforms circulated hashtags and headlines speculating the girls had been abducted and forced into sex work. Others worried the girls were dead. The police countered all theories by assuring local and national worriers that these missing black girls were merely runaways.

The press has put some energy into explaining the role of social media in the crisis, denying a spike in the disappearances of black girls and asking that the public keep calm and carry on.

And yet, Dunbar’s post reminds us that to carry on is to collude with the marginalization and devaluing of black girls and women that is the status quo. We are reminded to resist the decentering of violence against black women and girls by the advent of the hashtag: #SayHerName.

And #BlackLivesMatter itself tirelessly moves forward because of the energies and wisdom of the women at the center of its leadership, Alicia Garza, Patrisse Cullors, and Opal Tometi, who often remind us of the invisibility of queer people of color from our calls for social justice. The devastation and violence that grips the worlds of black trans women should also be a sobering reminder of the precarities that foreclose life chances.

The Anthropoliteia #BlackLivesMatter syllabus has circled around these invisibilities, but this week I’d like to make some connections that make this commitment more explicit.

Aimee Meredith Cox’s Shapeshifters, featured in Week 1,  is an eloquent and thoughtful meditation on black girls’ choreography and negotiation of homelessness and the violence of kin and stranger, institutions and intimates.

Ashanté Reese’s Week 15 post on blackness(es) and Zora Neale Hurston’s legacy is a necessary intervention in part because it reminds us of the invisibility and exclusion of black anthropologists and black women anthropologists from our disciplinary tradition.

Riché Barnes reminded us in Week 17 of the value of black maternal labors in many realms of political and cultural life. Maternal labors are transformative and consequential, and only one of many ways that black women shape worlds.

In thinking through the position of the professor as an arrivant, in Week 23 April Petillo meditates on the context of her own black womanhood in the classroom.

Faye Harrison, Gina UlysseBianca Williams, and Dana-Ain Davis  have lent us their wisdom and energies. What does it mean to follow where these voices lead in thinking about #BlackLivesMatter? What does it mean to follow where these voices lead in thinking about anthropology, and how we want to reshape our discipline?

Our syllabus tries, often imperfectly, to center the voices of black women scholars, who have given of their expertise to this pedagogical project. But it is also important that we do not cultivate expectations that problems of oppression are to be solved by the oppressed. This denies the power structures that are at work within systems of oppression themselves. It is our work to answer the calls of our peers and undertake the labors of educating ourselves.

Girlhood, womanhood, gender and sexuality have a role to play in rethinking, among many other things, racialized policing. Eve Dunbar reminds us of “the reality that black girls are, and have been, disappeared in this nation, every day in all sorts of ways that never make headlines.” Anthropology should not allow black women and girls to continue to disappear from our ethnographic engagements, or our activism. But moving forward might mean getting out of the way, cultivating a respectful practice of strategic silence, speaking with, and never speaking for.

Sameena Mulla is Associate Professor of Anthropology in the Department of Social and Cultural Sciences at Marquette University. 

 

 

 

 

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